Dumb Commentary on the Iraq War

Steven Dutch, Natural and Applied Sciences, Universityof Wisconsin - Green Bay
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I find it a lot easier to respect anti-war protesters in the Iraq War than Idid in the Vietnam War. First, whether you support the war or not, there is no arguing thatthere are some fearful risks involved. Second, the anti-war people seem to havelearned from the mistakes of the past and (so far) are being careful todistinguish between opposing the war and attacking the troops.

I can't keep up with the flood of dumb comments being made about the war, butmy wife gets regular e-mails from a guy who is hooked into some of the mostquintessentially dumb people around. So here's a sample. My own comments are inblue.

Thorne Anderson

Some of you have written to me with concerns for my safety in Iraq, but thiswas easily one of the safest assignments I have taken. In all my time in Iraq ,in spite of an intense awareness of the threat of an impending attack by theUnited States, I never met a single Iraqi who had a harsh word for me. Iraqisare very good at distinguishing between the U.S. government and a U.S.citizen. 

Of course he was perfectly safe in Iraq! He's singingthe party line. Then he comes to the West, where he is free to dissent withcomplete safety. Now if he were to try it the other way round.....

I did some work for Newsweek and Time magazines while in Iraq, but that kindof work has really become secondary for me. I do what I can to influence (inadmittedly small ways) what kinds of stories those big magazines do, butultimately their stories are nearly worthless at confronting the inhumanity ofAmerican foreign policy in the Middle East. 

For anyone who has lamented the mass media's obviouspolitical bias toward the left, hearing people complain about the"corporate media" being in thrall to the right is simply music to theears. When I hear complaints like this, I am reasonably sure the universe isunfolding as it should.

What many people don't realize is that the U.S. is already at war in Iraq. Imade two trips last month into the "no-fly zone" created by the U.S.with Britain and France in southern Iraq. Actually it would be better named the"only we fly" zone or the "we bomb" zone. 

Absolutely. We patrol it and the Iraqi air forces stayout. That's how it works. No apology.

While the U.S. prevents Iraqi aircraft from entering the region, it doesnothing to prevent or even to criticize Turkey (a U.S. ally) from flying intonorthern Iraq on numerous occasions to bomb Kurdish communities there. 

Complex stuff. The Kurds in Iraq are under U.S.protection but the Turkish PKK, a Marxist guerilla organization on a par withthe infamous Sendero Luminoso, is no doubt using Iraq as a sanctuary.

It is estimated that U.S. bombing has killed 500 Iraqis just since 1999.Actually I believe that number to be higher if you take into account the effectsof the massive use of depleted uranium (DU) in the bombing. The U.S. has droppedwell in excess of 300 tons of this radioactive material in Iraq (30 times theamount dropped in Kosovo) since 1991.

DU is fast becoming the darling of the environmentaland pacifist lunatic fringe.

DU is depleted uranium. It's uranium metalfrom which the U-235 has been removed for use in reactors or weapons. Theremainder, U-238, has a half-life of 4.5 billion years, meaning it's notespecially radioactive. In fact, since U-235 has a half life of only 700 millionyears and has been removed from DU, DU is slightly less radioactive than natural uranium.

Uranium has a density of 19 grams percubic centimeter, almost that of gold and nearly twice that of lead. The onlyother fairly inexpensive metal of that density is tungsten, but DU is cheapersince it's a leftover from other processes. DU is used when you need a lot ofmass in a small space: counterweights for aircraft control surfaces, forexample. Or anti-tank ammunition. (How come nobody complains about the radiationhazard after an airliner crash? Simple ignorance?)

Uranium is present in the earth's crust tothe extent of about 5 ppm by weight. That means 300 tons of DU is equivalent tothe amount of uranium in 60 million tons of rock and soil. A cubic meter of rock orsoil is about 1.3 tons, so we'd find 300 tons of uranium in about 45 million cubicmeters of rock or soil. That's the top meter of 45 square kilometers or the topcentimeter of 4500 square kilometers. Since the DU is spread out over thousandsof square kilometers, the military contribution of DU is a small part of thenatural environmental uranium. On the other hand, elemental uranium is moresoluble than uranium in minerals. The main hazard will be chemical, notradiological.

Since U.S. Bombing began in Iraq ,cancer rates have increased nearly six foldin the south, where U.S. bombing and consequent levels of DU are most severe.

Gee, that's also the area most likely tobe contaminated by residues from chemical warfare with Iran, isn't it?

But the most lethal weapon in Iraq is the intense sanctions regime. The tollof the sanctions is one of the most under-reported stories of the past decade inthe U.S. press. I have seen a few references to the sanctions recently in theU.S. press, but invariably they will subtly discredit humanitarian concerns byrelying on Iraqi government statements rather than on the statistics ofinternational agencies. My careless colleague at Time Magazine, for example,recently reported that "the Iraqi government blames the sanctions for thedeaths of thousands of children under the age of five." That's simply nottrue. The Iraqi government, in fact, blames the sanctions for the deaths of*more than a million*children under the age of five. But lets put that figureaside, for there's no need to rely solely on the Iraqi government, and let'srefer instead to UNICEF and WHO reports which blame the sanctions directly forthe excess deaths of approximately 500,000 children under the age of five, andnearly a million Iraqis of all ages. 

Let's run the numbers here. Iraq's population hasincreased from 18 million in 1991 to about 23 million in 2003. An increase ofmore than 40% in twelve years hardly points to mass privation.

Also, UN demographic data put Iraq's death rateat 6-7/1000. This is well below the U.S. figure of 9, reflecting not so muchbetter health as a rapidly increasing young population. Death rates for trulyimpoverished societies include Chad: 17, Burkina Faso: 20; Rwanda: 20, andBangladesh: 11.

Using the UN death rate, we can estimate that about130,000 people die in Iraq annually and that there have been a total of roughly1.5 million deaths from all causes - especially natural causes - since 1991. Sofigures of half a million to a million excess deaths from the sanctionsare simply made up out of thin air.

Around 4,000 children die every month from starvation and preventable diseasein Iraq-- a six-fold increase since pre-sanctions measurements.

"Preventable" is the word. All Iraq ever hadto do was comply with U.N. demands. And let's not pretend Iraq is a have-notcountry. It's self-sufficient in energy and certainly capable of manufacturingmost of its own drugs. It has abundant water and there is no reason it cannotsupply enough food for everyone. A nation capable of building Scuds andknock-off T-72 tanks is certainly capable of building whatever infrastructure itneeds to supply its own humanitarian needs.

Charley Rees, March 7 , 2003

I am not setting out to bash Israel, (It's not cool tobe both a liberal and an anti-Semite, but you can get away with it by doing itthis way) but merely to point out undeniable facts that most of theAmerica media and American politicians studiously ignore. Is it too difficultfor Americans to grasp that the United States has a blatant double standard andthat the people in Arab countries justifiably resent that double standard? 

No double standard at all. We're also close allies ofTurkey, which is imperfect, but democratic and not actively harboringterrorists. If, say, Tunisia were to become as democratic as Israel, and be thetarget of active attempts by Libya and Algeria to destroy it, we'd supportTunisia just as aggressively.

The Arabs do not expect or demand that the United States become the enemy ofIsrael. 

This guy seriously needs to see his supplier ofrecreational pharmaceuticals for a very long talk about quality control. Does heever read the newspapers?

They recognize the close ties between the two countries. All they ask for issimple fairness. It's not fair to threaten Iraq with war for allegedly violatingU.N.  resolutions while protecting Israel from any consequences forviolating more U.N. resolutions. It's not fair to go to war to undo the invasionof Kuwait by Iraq while condoning the continued occupation by Israel of portionsof Lebanon, Syria and Palestine. 

Sure it is. Kuwait was no threat whatever to Iraq; theinvasion was a land and resource grab, pure and simple. Israel will give backoccupied territory when it is secure, and we know that from past behavior. Afterall, it gave back the Sinai.

It's not fair to threaten Iraq and Iran about weapons of mass destructionwhile remaining silent about those possessed by Israel. It's not fair to harp onthe crimes committed by Saddam Hussein while rationalizing the crimes committedby Israel. Do you realize that in just the past week, as of this writing, theIsraelis have killed 33 Palestinians? 

The logic here: You can't condemn me for deliberate genocide ofthousands because you've killed 33 people in military operations.

Do you realize that if the United States announced that its policy is to ridthe entire Middle East of weapons of mass destruction, including those possessedby Israel, that the United States would receive the overwhelming support of theArab world?

Sure it would.  The support would be even moreoverwhelming if we disarmed Israel entirely. If we offered the weapons of massdestruction to the Arabs, would they decline?

Fairness was once the characteristic of the American republic. It consistssimply of doing exactly what our great founder, George Washington, recommended:treat all countries the same, showing neither favoritism nor enmity to any.Moreover, he pleaded, do not involve yourself in other people's feuds andquarrels. And finally, he warned against the evils of foreign influence in ourdomestic affairs. Every single foreign-policy problem we face, including thethreat of terrorism, is a result of violating those three admonitions.

Wow. Let's go back to isolationism. Should we reallyhave treated England and Nazi Germany equally 60 years ago, or Japan and China?Why were people like Rees pressuring the U.S. to boycott South Africa a fewyears back?

We don't treat all nations the same

Because not all nations are the same.

We do involve ourselves in other people's quarrels 

Only a few years ago we were hearing complaints thatthe West did nothing to interfere in Rwanda.

President Bush fancies himself a Christian. It's too bad he isn't, but thenmost Christians would not be recognizable to Christ if he returned to Earth.Peace, love and justice are not very fashionable in many Christian circles thesedays. Many of them prefer war, provided they don't have to fight it.

I only comment here for the sake of completeness. Thetactic of redefining "Christian" to mean "nice person" or"pacifist" has been demolished so many times to no effect that onemore time will hardly make a difference. I just point out that Christ never, atany time, spoke out against the Roman military occupation of Palestine, and thatthe only group of people that are invariably described in complimentary terms inthe New Testament are Roman soldiers. 

And speaking of double standards, the Koran says:[17.104] "And We said to the Israelites after him: Dwell in the land: andwhen the promise of the next life shall come to pass, we will bring you bothtogether in judgment."

So according to the Koran, which Israel's enemiespurport to believe, God gave the land to the Israelites. Not only do Arabs haveno right to try to take it away from them, they never had any right to be inIsrael in the first place. 

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Created 24 March, 2003,  Last Update 24 May, 2020

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